Tags: Venezuela | venezuela | maduro | protests

Maduro Reaches Out to Critics as Venezuelan Death Toll Increases

Saturday, 01 March 2014 07:45 AM

CARACAS, Venezuela  — Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro said yesterday he is open to meeting with student protesters and opposition leaders as the death toll from more than two weeks of demonstrations rose.

“The country would gain if we met and talked, with respect as always,” Maduro said in a nationwide address after calling on two-time presidential hopeful Henrique Capriles to hold talks. “We are inviting actors, artists, private and public entities, opposition leaders, students, governors, mayors, the Catholic Church and whoever wants to participate.”

Maduro spoke after the opposition alliance, which has boycotted two meetings with the president, said it would negotiate only when he shows respect and offers an agenda worked out with mediators. In a message passed on by his wife, opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez wrote that the invitation lacked sincerity considering the government jailed him and seeks to arrest his political coordinator, Carlos Vecchio.

Maduro has attempted to defuse discontent over inflation, crime and shortages of goods by expanding the annual Carnival festivities by two days. At least 17 people have been killed and 261 injured since protests erupted in Caracas on Feb. 12, Public Prosecutor Luisa Ortega said yesterday. Maduro later said a member of the National Guard had been killed in the city of Valencia

“For Nicolas Maduro, ’dialog’ is a tactical retreat, a product of the pressure in the street,” Lopez’s wife, Lilian Tintori, posted on her husband’s Twitter feed on his behalf. “It isn’t true conviction. Maduro dialog is this: come to Miraflores and while I address the nation I persecute, murder and repress.”

Miraflores is the Presidential Palace.

Too many deaths have occurred for the situation to be defused by a week’s break, said Luis Vicente Leon, director of Caracas-based polling firm Datanalisis. The government will have to meet some of the opposition’s demands and give the private sector a say in economic policy, he said.

Governor Capriles, who lost to Maduro in elections to succeed Chavez last year, has called on the Catholic Church to serve as a mediator and insisted the government release Lopez, who was detained last week on charges of inciting violence. Vecchio is wanted on similar charges, his party, Voluntad Popular, said in an e-mailed statement.

The government made moves to address complaints about police repression by arresting eight intelligence police officers over the alleged murder of two people during protests on Feb. 12. The Information Ministry press office declined to comment when asked whether it has issued a warrant to arrest Vecchio.

Opposition leaders Maria Corina Machado, Antonio Ledezma and David Smolansky will lead a motorcade today to push for the release of protesters detained by the government, Machado said in an e-mailed statement.

Protesters yesterday could be heard banging pots and pans in the eastern Caracas neighborhood of Altamira, which has become the hub of protests in the capital. Tear gas was fired last night after the intersections in the neighborhood were blocked, Mayor Ramon Muchacho wrote on his Twitter account.

Authorities detained about 30 male students and 10 female students in Altamira Friday night, Alfredo Romero, a lawyer and head of the Venezuelan Penal Forum, said on Twitter. The detained included eight foreigners wanted for terrorism, the state television network said on its Twitter account.

The opposition also held marches in the cities of Maracaibo and Merida, student leader Gaby Arellano wrote on Twitter.

“We will permit daily protests from students and opposition as long as they are peaceful,” Maduro said yesterday. “We welcome meetings to discuss peace initiatives. We seek dialog that is truthful and with love.”

U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, and Sen. Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, introduced a resolution “deploring” the violence in Venezuela and urged President Barack Obama to impose sanctions, visa revocations and asset freezing, according to the text of an e-mailed statement.

Maduro, 51, proposed a “new phase” in relations with the country’s biggest trading partner Wednesday after nominating the first ambassador to Washington in four years.

The president heard from both critics and supporters at a 4 1/2-hour-long “peace conference” in Caracas on Wednesday that the main political opposition group skipped.

“Our country is not well, Mr. President,” Jorge Roig, head of the country’s main business federation, said as Maduro sat at a desk with the word “peace” spelled out by flowers in front of him. “We have economic indicators that show us with one of the highest inflation rates in the world, with enormous shortages.”

Other event participants included beverage magnate Lorenzo Mendoza, whom Maduro praised for recommending a commission to analyze the country’s economic situation and a 12-point plan to increase domestic production to offset imports.

“To bring about solutions and contribute to social peace, we need to orchestrate a quick list of concrete measures that will put the country on the path of growth again,” Mendoza wrote in an e-mailed statement yesterday.

Extending the Carnival holidays on short notice will damage the economy without increasing the number of people leaving big cities, said Ricardo Cusanno, president of Venezuela’s National Hotel Federation.

Venezuela’s economic growth will slow this year to 0.5 percent from an estimated 1.2 percent in 2013, in both instances falling short of the Latin American average, according to analysts polled by Bloomberg in early February.

Amid the discontent, the president has taken steps to address a dollar shortage that has crimped imports, causing scarcities of everything from chicken to paper.

“What the country needs is more production, not more days off,” Cusanno said by telephone. “This is not the ideal time to be giving extra holidays.”

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Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro said yesterday he is open to meeting with student protesters and opposition leaders as the death toll from more than two weeks of demonstrations rose.
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Saturday, 01 March 2014 07:45 AM
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